Feuding neighbors locked in stalemate
- Janine Robben
- Portland Tribune - News
Montavilla residents take on police, one another over controversial house
Six Portland police cars pulled up in front of Sherri Jackson's Montavilla house one afternoon last week to search for stolen bicycles worth thousands of dollars.
Jackson said police told her they sought approval to search her home. After about an hour of intermittent conversations with some of the half-dozen police officers on the scene, she consented to the search.
Bureau spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said Monday that police found one stolen bicycle in the house's yard, one of about $8,000 to $10,000 worth of bicycles reported stolen from an East Burnside Street pawn shop. He said no arrests have been made, and an investigation is continuing. Jackson said the bicycle belonged to a relative of an occupant and was not stolen.
The search was the latest chapter in a story that to date has not had a happy ending for anyone:
The house's occupants claim harassment by neighbors and police; neighbors fault the police for not closing down what they consider to be a drug house; and police say they continue work on the case but have been unable to confirm ongoing drug activity.
Meanwhile, the company that holds the mortgage on the house, which is owned by the parents of Jackson's boyfriend, may hold the solution to the predicament: It has foreclosed on the house, according to county records.
Jackson said she and other occupants of her small house near Northeast Burnside Street and 82nd Avenue are not engaging in ongoing drug dealing, as some of the neighbors maintain. She said that police used excessive force during an October search of the house and are continuing to harass them and that the system on which she relied Ñ police review Ñ let her down.
But a group of neighbors, led by Jackson's next-door neighbor, Kyr Westwind, say the police and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement have not done enough to stop alleged drug activity at what they call the 'drug house,' which they want the city to remove by whatever means possible.
'We've watched in frustration as the same customers come to the same drug house day after day, literally right under the noses of local law enforcement,' Westwind said in a January letter to Mayor Vera Katz. 'Our attempt at 'community policing' has not led to any meaningful action on the part of the city or law enforcement agencies.'
Jackson, who spoke to the Tribune on condition that her boyfriend and his parents not be identified, told a different story.
'Today, the (police) told my boyfriend that they had gotten e-mails from some of the neighbors saying we are still selling drugs,' Jackson told the Tribune on Feb. 12. 'What drugs? If there are drugs, by all means indict me.'
Jackson also filed a complaint with the police bureau's Internal Affairs Division, alleging that excessive force was used against her in the form of a taser gun during the Oct. 18 drug raid on the house. She was cited for possession of an unspecified amount of methamphetamine found during the search Ñ a citation that later was dismissed.
Internal Affairs denied Jackson's claim on the basis that she was being uncooperative when she was 'tazed.' She said she plans to appeal to the Citizen Review Committee, which is the citizens' arm of the city's Independent Police Review Division.
Jackson's other next-door neighbor, Vincent Kamp, who said he witnessed the October raid, said police used excessive force and have continued to harass Jackson and other occupants of the house.
'They're calling the cops every day on these folks,' he said of Westwind and other neighbors. 'The last eight months have been pure hell in this neighborhood. This whole street is nothing but a battle zone.'
Search makes a spectacle
Tension between Westwind and Jackson's household Ñ and their sharply divergent versions of fact Ñ began soon after Westwind moved into this neighborhood of small, mostly tidy single-family houses last summer. Jackson blames the animosity on personal disagreements; Westwind contends that Jackson's house is a 'meth house.'
'At any given time, a dozen people seem to be living there,' Westwind said.
According to Jackson, the house has only four permanent occupants: herself, her boyfriend and his parents. According to the state's database, neither Jackson nor her boyfriend have any convictions for drug-related crimes; the parents have no criminal records.
City records show that Jackson's boyfriend's parents bought the house in 1989; the police bureau's affidavit for the October search lists drug complaints concerning it going back to the mid-1990s.
Shortly after the Westwinds moved in, the neighbors organized a watch group as one element of community policing. For more than a decade, the police bureau has been a proponent of community policing, defined as a collaborative effort involving police, local government and the community to reduce crime and the fear of crime.
On Oct. 18, police served a search warrant on the house based on information provided by a confidential informant who said he had made six purchases of methamphetamine from Jackson in the previous 45 days.
The informant also said he had seen numerous drug customers in the house; people consuming illegal narcotics; and an inside video surveillance monitor directed at the front of the house and the street, with a rifle in close proximity to the monitor.
Because of the alleged presence of guns in the house, the search was treated as high risk, police Sgt. Eric Schober said in November. Sixteen people, four of whom identified themselves as residents, were in the house at the time of the search, he said.
Westwind said the search traumatized neighbors. She said it was carried out by several dozen police officers in full riot gear. 'They looked like black-clad storm troopers,' she said in an e-mail.
'The raid was under way before anyone on the street knew what was happening,' Westwind said. 'Everything happened very quickly. By the time it was over, the house looked like a tornado had hit it. There was glass and debris everywhere. Every window was broken. It looked like a disaster zone.'
Jackson said the search was even more traumatic for the house's occupants, whom she said were assembled to go to a birthday party when police burst through the front door at 8:50 p.m.
'It was like the worst nightmare you could envision,' Jackson said. 'I had just returned home with a birthday cake. One of them (the police) said, 'You know, it's my birthday, happy birthday to me,' and smashed the cake on the floor.'
Jackson said the police broke out one of the windows while a small child was still in the house, kicked her boyfriend in the head as he lay on the floor, yelled obscenities at her, and shot her twice with the taser gun while she lay on the floor.
Next-door neighbor Kamp said he saw the whole raid through his sliding glass door. 'Everything that went down there was really excessive,' said Kamp, who said he has done three tours of duty in Vietnam. 'Excessive force was used on people. What's a person going to do once he's down on the ground and an assault rifle's pointed at him?'
The taser used on Jackson apparently was one of the new M26 Advanced Taser stun guns that has two tethered metal darts Ñ propelled at 100 miles per hour Ñ that shock a target with electricity.
The electricity 'causes an uncontrollable contraction of the muscle tissue,' says its manufacturer, 'allowing the (gun) to physically debilitate a target regardless of pain tolerance or mental focus.'
Police field-tested the gun 40 times between July and mid-December 2002, Police Chief Mark Kroeker said earlier this month. Everyone struck with darts from the gun was taken to hospitals for evaluation, and no one was found to have been seriously injured, he said.
Jackson said she was not taken to a hospital. 'The pain, you can't imagine,' she said. 'I really thought they were going to kill me, or my boyfriend, or both of us, that night.'
Accounts differ on activity
The search resulted in the seizure of a surveillance camera and a number of rifles. And although Jackson's citation for possession of methamphetamine was dismissed, it would not be uncommon for the state to convene a grand jury on the matter at a later date.
But the lack of current charges has made neighbors unhappy.
Since October, e-mails between the office of crime prevention specialist Rhetta Drennan, the neighbors and the police reveal an apparent rift in their 'collaborative effort' at community policing of Jackson's house.
Westwind has complained that the city has failed to help neighbors fight what she calls 'blatant drug dealing and health code violation issues.' But Drennan, who has worked with the neighbors through the Office of Neighborhood Involvement's Southeast Neighborhood Uplift, told them in November that she was 'personally stunned' by the complaints.
Drennan pointed out that the neighbors have received numerous services, including frequent contacts from both herself and Brendan McGuire, the police bureau's senior neighborhood officer for Montavilla.
In February, Westwind responded via e-mail to McGuire's report to neighbors that police had watched Jackson's house but were unable to corroborate their reports of ongoing drug activity.
'You generally don't have to watch that house for more than an hour, any time of day, any day of the week, to see a drug transaction,' she said. 'The drug activity is blatantly apparent to anyone of average intelligence and eyesight who pauses for any length of time.'
Several other neighbors contend that such activity still is occurring regularly. About 40 neighbors participated in a protest against the alleged drug house in November.